Europe and Central Asia
15 Dec 2014

European Medicines Agency asks the European Commission to address vulture-killing drug

This news is the first step in banning the use of veterinary diclofenac in Europe (Greg & Yvonne Dean;
By Martin Fowlie

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) has supported the arguments expressed by BirdLife regarding the risk that the veterinary use of the drug diclofenac represents to vultures. In their scientific opinion on diclofenac and vultures, EMA is asking the European Commission to act immediately and outlines a series of possible measures to avoid the poisoning of vultures.

BirdLife welcomes the scientific opinion issued by EMA, and urges the European Commission to implement the safest and most cost-effective measure available: a full ban on the veterinary use of diclofenac in Europe. The report of EMA supports this, as it recognises that the withdrawal of the marketing authorisations of diclofenac is the only measure that negates the risks completely, without affecting animal welfare since alternative drugs are available.

Iván Ramírez, Head of Conservation for Europe and Central Asia said, "The European Medicines Agency is sending the right message both to the European Commission and to FATRO, the company that currently commercialises this environmentally dangerous drug in Europe. But this is not over yet, we will remain vigilant and continue to mobilise our supporters to make sure veterinary diclofenac is out of the market. Every minute counts."

BirdLife has led, in collaboration with many other environmental groups, an international campaign aiming to ban veterinary diclofenac. This drug was identified as the sole reason for the massive population declines that occurred in South-East Asia, where all vulture populations suffered declines over 97% in the last two decades. The drug is now banned in a range of countries, including India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Meloxicam is a cheap, safe alternative to diclofenac (

A recent paper in Science warned over the risks of veterinary pharmaceuticals to wildlife.

Thijs Kuiken, Professor of Comparative Pathology at the Erasmus Medical Center and lead author of that study said, “I was shocked when I first heard that diclofenac had been authorised for use in—of all places—Spain, which is a stronghold for vultures in Europe. This example shows that we need to radically change the way we deal with pharmaceuticals, both those used in human and veterinary medicine.“

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Chris Bowden from BirdLife's UK Partner, the RSPB, co-author of the article and co-ordinator of the international conservation consortium Saving Asia’s Vultures from Extinction (SAVE) said, “Three species of vultures were brought to the verge of extinction in South Asia by the then unknown effects  of a veterinary drug.  It is perverse that regulators in Europe have chosen to disregard this event and allow the strong possibility that diclofenac will enter the food chain of vultures and other scavenging birds there. The problem is now well-researched and I hope that the EU follows the commendably rapid response of South Asian regulators, who acted quickly to remove the drug from vultures’ food.”

Vultures play a vital role in European ecosystems, especially in Spain where more than 95% of the continent’s vultures reside. Spanish vultures remove more than 8000 tons of livestock carcasses per year, which helps control disease and pests and also serves to recycle nutrients. These ecosystem services provide an estimated economic saving of 1.5 million Euros.

The impact of diclofenac on vultures is just one example of a problem that has much wider implications. In 2004, an estimated 6051 tons of biologically active substances were included in the production of veterinary pharmaceuticals in the EU. While these drugs may benefit the health of domestic animals and the efficiency of livestock production, they can contaminate the environment indirectly. This is a threat to non-target species, including humans. 

Stichting BirdLife Europe gratefully acknowledges financial support from the European Commission. All content and opinions expressed on these pages are solely those of Stichting BirdLife Europe. The European Commission is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.